It is no small thing to have to follow a film like TRAINWRECK. Amy Schumer’s maiden big-screen opus as writer and star was savage, smart, and both wickedly funny and relentlessly aggressive in its take down of the cultural norms of gender representation, and of the primacy of the male gaze. And so after seeing SNATCHED, my first reaction is “Amy, we hardly knew ye.”
Written by Katie Dippold, who gifted us with THE HEAT a few years back, is a pedestrian effort made bearable, and for brief, shining moments, very funny, by the determined efforts of its talented cast. All too often, alas, the narrative fails to maintain the necessary screwball momentum to keep this farce afloat, choosing instead to bog down in yet another soppy interlude when it should be building absurdity on absurdity in this tale of a mother and daughter whose vacation goes very, very wrong. Why rein in Schumer when she can make saying a deadpan hello to her mother’s cat a perfectly timed moment of comedic exasperation and incipient nihilism? Or, later on, make battle with a tapeworm simultaneously horrifying and hysterical.
As the sad sack Emily Middleton, Schumer is at her best as a self-absorbed woman drifting through life without a
clue, taking selfies and umbrage. Newly dumped by her boyfriend (Randall Park), she returns to her mother’s house to wallow in self-pity, and to snark with her agoraphobic brother, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz). Stuck with an extra ticket to Ecuador because of the dumping, and after finding a scrapbook showing how much fun her mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), was before her husband left her and she became a paranoid suburban cat lady, Emily convinces mom to accompany her. Emily packs heat-sensitive birth control; mom packs rape whistles. Neither of those things will prevent them from being kidnapped by a Columbian (Óscar Jaenada), though their subsequent escape into the wilds of the Amazon becomes an opportunity for them to work out the defects in their relationship. At length. And in the klunkiest and fashion possible, with dialogue that has echoes through dozens and dozens of other flicks. Often those found made specifically for Lifetime, Television for Women.
Intermittent hilarity ensues, as Emily discovers a genius for accidentally killing members of the kidnapper’s gang, two pushing fellow tourists (Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack) out-paranoid Linda, and Jeffrey threatens a State Department employee (Bashir Salahuddin) with weaponized Game of Thrones spoilers. While that last was really funny, the extended badgering sequence of said agent by Jeffrey goes on way too long. Speaking of misfires, pity poor Christopher Meloni. As the man of mystery in the middle of the jungle in swathed in khaki and cynicism, he channels the quintessential cheesy hero of a B-grade adventure flick, yet, he is not allowed to pull out all the stops necessary to take full advantage of the ci-mentioned potential absurdity. It’s like watching an acrobat in a straight-jacket.
The best moments in SNATCHED are Schumer being Schumer. She has the gift of taking a character who is essentially unlikable, yet still finding that vulnerability from which the obnoxious springs and making it poignant. Not likeable, that would be a cheat, but just sad enough from the buffets of life’s slings and arrows, all self-inflicted, to engage our interest, if only to see how she will rebound, and with the use of what kind of corkscrew logic. Diluting that with pap (is it to appeal to a wider audience?) is a crime against nature.